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Anderson Varejao put together one of the most eye-popping lines of the season Tuesday night against the Nets, finishing with 35 points and 18 rebounds in a losing effort. Tuesday's monster effort pushed Varejao's season averages to 15.9 points and 13.7 rebounds. Those numbers would easily mark career-highs for Varejao.
Is this breakout from Varejao the real thing or just a hot streak to start the season?
While Varejao's scoring numbers are inflated after Tuesday's career-high 35 points, he has shown enough improvement on the offensive end of the court to support the uptick in his scoring this season. He's shooting a personal-best 61 percent from the floor and 71 percent from the charity stripe. His high shooting percentage from the floor is a direct result of his shot selection - as we saw Tuesday, Varejao lives at the rim. As long as he continues to take the vast majority of his attempts close to the basket, a 60-percent clip is sustainable. Varejao's improvement at the line are the result of a veteran player becoming more efficient as his game matures. He has increased his free-throw percentage each of the past four seasons.
But the most important factor to Varejao's improved numbers is his boost in playing time. After eclipsing 30 minutes per game just twice in his career, Varejao is now averaging a career-high 35 mpg. Take one look at the Cavs depth chart and it's easy to see why Varejao will continue get heavy playing time as long as he stays healthy.
There were hints that Varejao was on the verge of this type of breakout last year, but his season was cut short by a wrist injury. Now healthy, Varejao has a great chance to finish the season as a legitimate top-40 fantasy player.
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 game every now and then - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time, rotation role, or performance.
Steve Nash, G, LAL – The Lakers went out and hired former Suns and Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni earlier this week, making way for a reunion between the offensive guru and his prized pupil. Nash, who is out another week or two with a non-displaced fracture in the head of his fibula, looked uncomfortable running ex-Laker coach Mike Brown's Princeton offense throughout the preseason and first two games of the regular season, but Nash will be right back in his comfort zone at the helm of D'Antoni's fast-paced, pick-and-roll scheme. Go out and target Nash from owners who may be turned off by his injury and/or slow start.
A.J. Price, G, WAS – With John Wall (knee) on the shelf to start the season, Price has filled in admirably as the Wizards starting point guard. Through six games, Price has averaged 10.0 points, 7.7 assists. and 1.8 threes. His shooting percentage (30.6) won't be helping any fantasy squads, but Price has been a steady distributor while also limiting his turnovers (3.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio). The window on his value will slam shut once Wall returns, but Price remains a solid No. 3 point guard play for at least the next few weeks. The 26-year-old point guard is only owned in 32 percent of Yahoo! leagues, so go grab him if you need temporary help at the position.
Chandler Parsons, G/F, HOU – Parsons was a surprise contributor on deeper fantasy squads last season, but he still went widely unnoticed on draft day. Given the uncertainty of the Rockets' rotation during the preseason, it's understandable why he wasn't given much attention, but after a solid start to the season, Parsons should be considered a legitimate fantasy option. Through seven games, Parsons is averaging 12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.1 steals, and 2.1 treys while ranking among the league leaders in playing time with over 38 minutes of run per game. Parsons has staked his claim to the Rockets' starting small forward gig, and with first-round pick Royce White going AWOL earlier this week, there's little danger of the second-year swingman losing playing time to anyone for the foreseeable future.
Omer Asik, C, HOU – Regardless of the size of your fantasy hoops league, a player averaging 13 boards per game probably shouldn't be available on the waiver wire. Oddly, that's the case with Asik, as he's available in 32 percent of Yahoo! leagues. In addition to his high rebounding totals, Asik has been surprisingly tolerable on the offensive end of the court, averaging 9.9 points while hitting 72 percent of his freebies. He's also a solid contributor on defense with 1.1 blocks and 0.9 steals per game. Asik will never be an offensive force, but he's worth a look if you need traditional big man stats.
Alexey Shved, G, MIN – The Timberwolves have been hit with a barrage of injuries, leaving the team without key players like Kevin Love (hand) and Ruicky Rubio (knee) for long stretches. The latest Timberwolf to hit the shelf is Chase Budinger, who will miss the next three to four months after undergoing knee surgery Tuesday. Early indications are Shved could be the player to benefit most from Budinger's injury. Over the past two games, Shved has played nearly 30 mpg while averaging 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.5 blocks. Shved has struggled with his shot in the early going (33.3 percent), but he's actually known for having a quality stroke that extends beyond the three-point line. Once Shved starts hitting his shots with some consistency, he could be a potent scoring option off the Timberwolves' bench.
Jose Calderon, G, TOR – Kyle Lowry's ankle injury has opened up more playing time for Calderon over the past week. Through four starts, Calderon has averaged 14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 11.0 assists and 2.8 treys while playing over 40 mpg. His value is directly tied to Lowry's health going forward, but the Spanish point guard is a must-own until Lowry returns to action.
Robin Lopez, C, NOR – Surprisingly, Brook Lopez isn't the highest ranked player in his family right now. Robin, who's holding down the starting center job for New Orleans, is currently ranked as the 61st most valuable player based on per-game averages. He's not as good of an offensive player as his brother Brook, but Lopez is a better rebounder (6.8 rpg) and defender (2.2 bpg). Despite his early season success, Lopez is owned in less than half of Yahoo! leagues. The upside isn't as high for the lesser-known Lopez, but he remains a commodity in fantasy while seeing significant run for the Hornets. Go grab him if you need help at the center position.
Nikola Pekovic, C, MIN – Pekovic's name was added to the long list of banged up Timberwolves this week after the bruising center left Monday's win over Dallas with a left ankle sprain. He has already been ruled out of Wednesday's game, but his status for Friday's tilt against the Warriors is still up in the air. The 26-year-old big man is one of the tougher players in the league – he refused crutches after sustaining this injury – so we expect him to make a quick return.
Gerald Wallace, F, BRO – Wallace has missed the past five games with a sprained left ankle. He has practiced fully the past two days and is considered Ò50-50Ó for Thursday's tilt against the Celtics. Owners should be able to plug ÒCrashÓ back into their lineups in short order.
Jameer Nelson, G, ORL – Nelson is another player who is close to making a return to the hardwood. His injured groin reportedly felt good enough to play Tuesday, but Magic coach Jacque Vaughn opted to err on the side of caution. The emergence of E'Twaun Moore has scared away some owners of Nelson, resulting in him being available in 38 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but he should reclaim the starting gig with ease. The Magic committed nearly $20 million to Nelson this offseason, so look for the team to get him right back to being a heavy part of the rotation sooner than later. Now is the time to add Nelson if he's available in your league.
Kyle Lowry, G, TOR – The aforementioned Lowry has missed the past four games with an ankle injury. The explosive point guard traveled to New York on Tuesday to get a second opinion on his ankle, but the results have not surfaced yet. Keep an eye out for those reports, as it'll give us a better timetable for Lowry's return.
Chase Budinger, G/F, MIN – Budinger is on the shelf for the next three to four months after he had the meniscus in his left knee repaired Tuesday. He had carved out a nice role as a scoring option off the Timberwolves bench, but by the time he heals up, it'll probably be too late for Budinger to make much of an impact in fantasy. Cut him loose.
Manu Ginobili, G/F, SAN - Father Time finally appears to be catching up to Ginobili. The 35-year-old veteran is currently dealing with back issues, which have led to one missed game and limited playing time (20 mpg). When on the court, Ginobili hasn't been nearly as effective this year, averaging just 7.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. He's currently shooting just 35 percent from the floor, so a bounce back should be expected, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Spurs limit Ginobili's minutes all season to ensure his health for the playoffs.
Brandan Wright, C, DAL – Wright's stint as the Mavericks starting center appears to have come to an end. Chris Kaman is slated to take over the starting gig Wednesday night against the Wizards, pushing Wright to a reserve role. The 25-year-old big man provided decent deep league value while part of the starting five, but he'll be hard-pressed to sustain his production now that's he's in a reserve role.
Andrea Bargnani, F/C, TOR – It's officially time for owners to stop holding out hope that Bargnani will one day live up to his draft pedigree as a former No. 1 overall selection. The seven-foot Italian continues to have problems sinking shots (35.7 percent from the floor) while also falling below five boards per game (4.6 rpg) for the first time since 2007-08. He's still somehow chucking up 15.8 shot attempts per game, but the Raptors have already shown signs they'll use Lowry or DeMar DeRozan as options over Bargnani. The opportunity for Bargnani to establish himself as a go-to scorer on an NBA squad has come and gone, so owners would be best served to try selling him off for a player with more potential.
Andrew Bynum, C, PHI – Things took a turn for the worse for Bynum owners this week when it was revealed he might not be able to return to game action until January. This is especially frustrating, as Bynum was poised for a career-year as Philadelphia's franchise player. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised about physical setbacks from a player who has missed 130 of a possible 394 games over the past five seasons. His vast potential makes it difficult to sever ties, so all owners can do is stash him on the bench and hope for a quick recovery.